After 15 years of full-time preaching, I accepted a new role with the Harding School of Theology and found myself in the awkward position of seeking a new church home.
I don’t like the idea of the church being a market place. I don’t want to be a consumer. I want to be a disciple.
And yet somehow our family needed to find a new church family. How was I supposed to do this?
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I wondered if it was possible that this could be a spiritual training experience rather than a consuming experience.
Our family got together and prayed for the decision. We focused on three key attributes that we wanted in a church: community, mission, and scriptures.
We wanted to find a church where we could have spiritual friendships. We wanted a church where we could participate in God’s mission. We wanted a place where we could grow in the word of God. With this goal, we started our journey and started to visit 13 different churches.
Here is what we experienced:
1. We have noticed that church auditoriums are often very cold, so bring a sweater with you.
2. We have learned that meeting new people every week is tiring.
3. We have observed that COVID-19 has taken many churches’ breath away, but they continue to carry on with hope.
4. We found conviviality regularly as we entered the church buildings, with people often smiling and welcoming when they did not recognize us.
5. We remembered the impact of someone taking us to lunch after worship and how special it is.
6. We discovered the joy of receiving mail when handwritten notes were sent to us thanking us for coming to worship.
7. We felt important when we were asked to stand up and introduce ourselves or be mentioned from the pulpit.
8. We reiterated how confusing it can be for a guest to know which door to enter, where to go and what to do.
9. We were a little embarrassed when a lady suggested that my wife and I go to college / young adult class (actually, it made me feel good).
10. We identified with feeling “new” and how embarrassing, frustrating and difficult that can be.
11. We were encouraged when we were invited to attend Bible studies and small groups outside of the congregation. It’s nice to be invited!
12. We enjoyed the churches that offered food – a dinner for the youth group, after-service ice cream, or a small group potluck. Something about the food makes you feel welcome.
13. We felt sorrow when we realized that we cannot go to all the churches that we have visited, but that we must choose one.
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Finding a church house is not for the faint of heart. But like I told my kids, this is a time when we get to see many churches and meet many different brothers and sisters.
So instead of seeing it as a chore, it can be a practice of drawing closer to God through the church. We are nearing the end of our research. Although it has been difficult (and I am ready for it to be over), I am grateful for this season where we have been able to step back and see the church as guests and be thankful for the universal body of Christ whose we are part.
STEVE CLOER is assistant professor of ministry at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. He teaches courses in congregational ministry, mission, and leadership, and directs the doctoral program in ministry. Previously he was the preacher of the Church of Christ from the south side in Fort Worth, Texas.
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